Black metal is a riveting style of heavy music and an acquired taste among sonic connoisseurs around the world. In case you didn’t know, black metal is one of the most popular types of rock music in Scandinavian countries like Sweden and Norway. It often features gloomy chord progressions, shrieked vocals and a general atmosphere of anxiety. Possibly the most interesting part of this music for me is the aesthetic of the musicians. Many bands in this style wear white and black paint on their faces they call corpse paint, embrace Satanic imagery and even if they have nothing to do with Scandinavia, embrace traditional Norse mythology in lyrics and costume. Montreal-based Nordmadr (translating roughly to “The Northmen” in old Norse) go for this aesthetic full out. On January 29th 2016 they released their first EP on Bandcamp and I decided to check it out.
From the introduction of the first track, “Drowning The Life of a Child,” the gloomy aesthetic becomes immediately apparent. We’ve got what sounds like a small string section playing a somber, slow, sad tune. A couple of dark piano notes can be heard. A fucking crow starts cawing away. About a minute and a half into the tune, the classical instruments depart and bass slithers in, with a slow melancholy riff. The drums, then guitar then shrieked vocals enter and we’re in business.
The first track is probably my favorite because of the slow buildup and the dynamic shifts throughout the song. Nonetheless I find each track here has something to offer. “Dragon’s Pit” goes spoken word, which is a bit of a change of pace. Here you can really hear the fantastical Norse imagery in the lyrics, which perhaps helps non-metal folk get into the music a little bit. Much of the guitar playing on “Voyage To The Unknown” is without distortion but still gloomy, giving the song more of a ’90s alternative vibe than the others. Lastly, “Suffocate To Breed” is the most relentless song on here, featuring virtually the same riff for six and a half minutes. The song fades out so you can be sure it continues even after the song is done.
Production is an interesting thing when it comes to black metal because like some types of punk rock or indie music, some bands aspire to have a dirty, muddy sound. Because of this, some of the biggest black metal albums of all time have been recorded lo-fi. Basement recordings in this genre could sometimes be better than $100/hour studio time recordings. Because of this, it becomes really hard to evaluate which way to go when recording this kind of music. My biggest critique of this album follows this vein. I found throughout the EP the production to be a little uneven, especially on the vocals. The vocals on the first track sound ten times louder than the vocals on the last track. Spoken word on the second song is very audible but it’s incredibly difficult to make out the words on “Voyage to the Unknown” even though the music is much quieter. It sounds like sometimes the band is going for a grimy, in the moment recording, while sometimes they go for a more ‘studio vibe.’
Keeping in mind that this is the band’s first EP though, don’t let that discourage you. It’s a lot easier to get new means to production that to find talented musicians or good songwriters. This band has something going for it and hopefully they’ll keep on track and grace us with a great debut album sometime soon.